Patti Bess: Unconventional farmers |

Patti Bess: Unconventional farmers

Patti Bess
Sara Raskie and Tony Cervantes believe in providing the right cultural environment for the benefit of predators, insects and soil microbes in order to produce high quality foods.
Photo by Patti Bess

Sara Raskie and Tony Cervantes live and grow on their farm named Camil Teoyotica. The name comes from a native language meaning, “Sacred house surrounded by flowers.”

On a hot, south facing hillside Sara and Tony grow so many varieties of plants that the land actually expresses the more extensive definition of its name which means “entire universe unfolding with flowers.”

This is their third year developing their soil and establishing the infrastructure. Using permaculture principles, Sara and Tony believe in providing the right cultural environment for the beneficial insects, predators and soil microbes that produce the highest quality foods. They appreciate the many co-workers whom they pay a very fair wage — the worms, bees and butterflies.

Herbs such as mugwort, marjoram oregano and lavender all work to deter various insects and other predators. Located on Lewis Road in Nevada City, Sara and Tony lease land from Kriseda and Steve Smith who live next door.

Planting more than seeds

Like most organic farmers Sara and Tony work long hours in hot sun and in rain. However, unlike other farmers, they see themselves more as educators, planting a deeper awareness with their customers, friends and family that living in harmony with our earth can and will provide all of their needs.

Tony, whose family lineage comes from the Chichimeca tribe, recently retired from the state of California. He worked in the Drug and Alcohol Division and as liaison to the Native American community.

“At this point in our lives it feels like the best thing to do with our lives is building good soil and promoting seasonal, local food and medicines for people,” Tony said.

Sara, whose family lineage comes from the Ojibwa tribe, trained with local herbalist, Kathi Keville. She currently does herbal and wellness consulting. She spent many years working in the field of domestic violence.

They both work part time as trainers and consultants with the California Conservation Corps.

“Working in Domestic Violence field got me motivated to train for healing work,” Sara said. “I think one of the things I love about farming is that it is so tactile, and at the end of the day I see results.”

One of the primary crops at Calmil Teoyotica is medicinal herbs like: horehound, calendula, sweet grass, white sage, feverfew, mugwort, comfrey, California poppies — all herbs/flowers that Sara and Tony’s ancestors used to ameliorate illnesses and body challenges. They market these to several herbal retailers around Nevada City.

Their orchard, planted three years ago, is beginning to produce. It contains pears, peaches, elder berries, persimmons, figs, apples and several varieties of berries.

Tony and Sara grow an abundant variety of kitchen herbs including epazote’ for Mexican cooking and lemon grass for Asian foods. These are sold primarily to several restaurants and caterers in town.

They also grow traditional summer produce but mainly want to focus on specialty crops that are not as available locally. For instance, they grown heritage melons from Africa, amaranth, native corn, cardoons and goji berries.

To reach Sara or Tony or if you have specialty needs of medicinal or culinary herbs or vegetables, you can special order by calling 530-318-6165 or emailing

Sun Tea

An inexpensive and easy idea for a refreshing summer drink is making an herb sun tea. It only requires a gallon glass jar and a place in the sun.

All of these herbs can be purchased from Sara and Tony, at local natural food stores, or perhaps they are growing in your own garden.

Lemon grass

Calendula flowers

Rose petals (use only those that have not been sprayed)

Various mints


Lemon balm


Use a pinch or a handful of any of these herbs. Three different ones might be a good way to start. Fill a glass jar with water and the herbs and cover. Place in the hot sun for two to four hours.

Sweeten with honey, agave or your preferred sweetener. Lemon juice might also be a good addition. Cool in the refrigerator if desired. Strain and serve.

Beneficial women’s sun tea

Calendula flowers

Raspberry leaf

Lemon balm

Using the instructions above, these three herbs make an especially useful sun tea for women. Calendula flowers are known to boost the immune system and are anti-inflammatory, and raspberry leaf is soothing for many issues that women face.

Lemon balm, which grows in gardens everywhere, is known to be calming and helps with anxiety.

Patti Bess is a freelance writer and cookbook author from Grass Valley. Her features have appeared in more than 20 different magazines. She can be reached at

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